Friday, June 09, 2006

EU to recognize Montenegro independence

BRUSSELS, June 9, 2006 (AFP) -

European Union foreign ministers will agree next week to recognize the independence of Montenegro, following its referendum decision to split from Serbia, EU sources said Friday.

The ministers, holding regular talks in Luxembourg on Monday, will "give the green light" for recognition of the tiny Balkan state by the 25-nation bloc, said one diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Another EU official said the ministers will agree that "the EU member states will develop their relations with the republic of Montenegro as an independent state."

Montenegro formally declared its independence on Saturday after 55.5 percent of its voters supported separation from Serbia, with which it had been tied in a loose federation since 2003, in a referendum on May 21.

Under international law it will be up to individual EU member states to formally recognize Montenegro, rather than the EU as a whole. They can do so at different speeds and in different ways.

A British diplomat said that London plans to do so rapidly, although others may be more reluctant, given the sensitive situation in the Balkans in particular concerning Serbia.

The diplomat warned that Serbia needs encouragement after a series of knockbacks in recenth months.

The Montenegro referendum followed the suspension of EU membership talks because of lack of progress in finding key war crimes suspects, and signs that its southern province of Kosovo could one day become independent.

"It's a difficult time for the Serbs at the moment," he said. "The perception in Serbia is that they are having a lot of doors closed on them ... It's essential to give a positive message to Serbia."

Montenegro's independence signalled almost the final act in the turbulent break-up of the former Yugoslav, which was ripped apart by a series of bloody wars in the early 1990s.

Serbia sealed the final act of Yugoslavia's history when it proclaimed independence itself Monday, lowering the flag of the defunct Serbia and Montenegro federation and raising the Serbian standard in its place.

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